Bright Before Sunrise
Author:Schmidt, Tiffany

“Oh.” She slides the ring back on her finger. “If I give you a ride, will you come? Is your address in the school directory?”

 

“What, you’re worried my crappy car will ghettoize the library parking lot?”

 

“No.” Her fingers fly back to the ring. Spinning. “That’s not—”

 

“I’m not interested.”

 

“Oh.” Her face flashes to damn! for an instant before she plasters on a yearbook-photo smile and straightens her headband. It’s the first crack I’ve seen in her I’ve-got-it-all-together image, and I kinda feel bad—but then she barrels on and my sympathy is gone. The girl looks like a dream, but she’s got the determination of a pit bull. I’m sick of being her prey. “Well, if Sundays are bad for you, is there another day you’re free? I’d really like to—”

 

“No, not another time. When are you going to get that I want you to leave me alone?” I almost add “please,” but catch myself.

 

Her face freezes in a shocked expression. A blush starts at her collarbones and spreads to her hairline.

 

I swallow my guilt. This is a good reaction. Maybe she’s finally listening to me. Hopefully it’s finally sinking in.

 

“I …” She shakes her head slightly. “I’m—”

 

“Brighton! I love that top. So cute!”

 

And she’s back to normal. Smiling. Done with me and turning toward her fan club: a preppy blond girl walking by with another preppy blond girl. She’s absorbed back into the flow of the hallway, surrounded by people who want those smiles and live and die by her advice.

 

I pull out my phone so I can text the girl whose smiles I want: Carly.

 

R we still on 4 tonite? Can’t wait.

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

Brighton

 

1:19 P.M.

 

 

23 HOURS, 41 MINUTES LEFT

 

 

“Leave me alone” is way worse than “No.” It’s more of an “I can’t stand you” than an “I’m not interested.” The raw annoyance in his brown eyes and deep voice add intensity to his rejection. I feel it from the curl of my toes to the fire in my cheeks. It hurts—as much as the places my new sandals have rubbed my feet raw, or the pulse point behind my ear that’s pinched by my headband. But I can’t let it show on my face.

 

I won’t.

 

Sarah’s interruption is a welcome distraction. I could hug her and Miranda for buying me a moment to pull myself together.

 

“Thanks. Your shirt is too. Both of yours. Really cute.”

 

They chime, “See you later,” and keep walking.

 

My gaze snags on the hallway clock, and I bite my lip. The clock is not my friend today. It keeps moving forward, carving minutes out of the day and cruelly pushing me toward tomorrow.

 

And I’m not ready.

 

Each click of the second hand feels like a catch in my breath, each bell that announces another class is over heaps more pounds of pressure on my shoulders.

 

There’s only a fragile strip of time between me and Mom.

 

I don’t know if I can do it.

 

Eighty percent of any achievement is making the decision to achieve.

 

I take a deep breath and spin back around. Because I should say something, right? Apologize, or let Jonah know that I got his message. Something.

 

The space in front of his locker is empty. Craning my neck and standing on tiptoe, I catch sight of the top of his head, his disheveled light brown hair passing the entrance to the courtyard. He’s too far away for me to catch up and I doubt he’d appreciate me chasing him. What would I even say?

 

“Brighton!”

 

“Hey! Brighton!”

 

The two voices each call out again. Louder. From opposite ends of the hall. I feel like I’m being tugged in both directions, like I should fracture myself into pieces. Whoever I pick, I’m letting the other person down.

 

“B!”

 

Amelia’s nearly at my elbow. Maggie’s farther away, but louder, and much less patient. She’s waving her hand to get my attention. I smile in Amelia’s direction and call “Hi” toward Maggie.

 

Amelia reaches me first. “Is it the weekend yet?”

 

“Not quite.” I want to lean my head on her shoulder and confess—if not the harder stuff, at least I could tell her how I just made a fool of myself with Jonah.

 

She does a little dance. “I’m so impatient! And you should see Peter! He said the cutest thing—”

 

“Hey, Brighton! Hi, Amelia.” Maggie skids to a stop on my other side. “Sorry to butt in, but this is important!”

 

Amelia responds with an unenthusiastic, “Hey.”

 

I focus on the word “important” and rally some enthusiasm. “What’s up?”

 

Maggie waves her phone in my face. “I just got the proofs for my senior pictures! I’ve been looking for you all day, Brighton. Why weren’t you at lunch? So tell me, which one do you like?”

 

Important? We must have different definitions of the word. But then again, on any other day I would see this as important too. It’s not her fault.

 

“Let me see.”